Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Tobias

A WORRYING NUMBER of birds are more dependent on Papua New Guinea’s diminishing habitats than previously thought, say experts, who are calling for urgent action.

Between 1989 and 2000, more than 20 per cent of lowland forest in New Britain – the largest island on the edge of the Malay Archipelago – was lost, and although some species have adapted, researchers have found that a significantly higher number are in urgent need of protection.

New Britain and its nearby islands are important to 14 endemic bird species, and together with New Ireland forms an Endemic Bird Area – home to 38 restricted-range species. Yet New Britain’s bird fauna is the least known to science.

With the aim of updating the status of New Britain’s birds on the IUCN Red List, researchers visited the island and found that species highly dependent on the diminishing forest habitat include the Vulnerable New Britain goshawk (Accipiter princeps) and the New Britain kingfisher (Todiramphus albonotatus), which researchers say should be reclassified from Near Threatened to Vulnerable. Both species were discovered in areas of lowland forest on the frontlines of palm-oil and logging projects.

The team warn that these continued projects threaten to turn New Britain’s rich biodiversity into a deforested wasteland.

A BirdLife International spokesperson said: “Due to past habitat loss and these emerging threats, the researchers call for urgent attention to be directed towards improving our understanding of the ecology of New Britain’s special birds, to find out more about how they’re adapting, or in other cases, failing to cope.”

Only six species were found to be less dependent on the old-growth forest, and were observed using palm oil plantations as a new habitat.

With fewer than 50 orange-bellied parrots (Neophema chrysogaster) left in the wild, conservationists in Australia have attempted one last bid to save this Critically Endangered species from extinction outside captivity.

Scientists in Melaleuca, Tasmania, have started to capture the birds and move them into captivity in Hobart. The birds will be protected from the winter and released back into the wild ready for next year’s breeding season.

About 300 orange-bellied parrots have already been bred in captivity as a safety population if the wild population dies out.

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